Category Archives: History

Bicycles and women

The bicycle birth had an impact on both women and men. Both genres benefited from it, but women did it more intensively. The American magazine Munsey wrote this in 1896:

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they new in their work and in their play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Such was the consciousness awakening of women’s empowerment. This new vehicle allowed them to acquire independence and did not need men for some trips. Some have argued that this invention constituted the most important technology which has been helping women through centuries. Indeed, Susan B. Anthony said in 1896:

“ Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

I talked about the history of the bicycle with the draisine at the beginning, but it did not reach real popularity until the invention of the chain and the use of rubber in the second half of the 19th century. The life for women at that time was tremendously unfair. They spent their time inside home, tea houses or social parties. The bike democratization was a ray of sunlight. Not surprisingly Frances Williard (president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an important American suffragist organizations in the 19th century) experienced a freedom feeling which made her a reference activist while riding a bike at the age of 53. Even more, she dedicated a whole book to the bicycle.

Probably the clearer change the bike caused was the use of trousers since women had been using skirt and other garment. Thus, baggy pants popularized to make pedaling easier and more comfortable. Both men and women criticized the new behaviors without realizing the changes were going to be permanent.

Bikes and wars

A bicycle is much more than a machine for transportation. It has been used in a variety of ways since it was invented. The ancient prototypes were used mainly for sports and bourgeoisie entertainment, but bike history is much more than this. Today I am going to write about bikes and wars.

Bicycles were initially used back in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71) when the French troops were the first to use them on the war field. Imagine how uncomfortable was ride high-wheel bikes on dirt roads and mud paths. Some 30 years after, the British experienced with the bicycles during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) in South Africa. Contenders looked for mobility.

During the First World War, the Belgian, German, Italian, British and French armies used bikes with unequal success. The Italians were who most employed them. Their elite light infantry Bersaglieri regiments made used of them in order to improve mobile tactics and flashy incursions. In addition, scouts and messengers were among the top bicycle users. Soldiers could attach rifles down the tube or swung across their back. The British bikes were manufactured by Birmingham Small Arms Company which was a major British arms and ammunition producer since the Crimean War (1854 – 1856). Millions died in the Great War and among the casualties were 15 cyclists who rode in the Tour de France in 1914.

Bicycles were used again in the Second World War. British and American paratroopers realised bikes offer advantages for reconnaissance. On the other side, Japanese dealt with rubber shortages and rode the rims without tyres on rough jungle rails.

The bicycle simpleness made transportation quick and reliable. Even in 2008 the Australian Military used it in East Timor to improve flexibility of field patrols. The unit was the Bicycle Infantry Mounted Patrol.

Brief history of the bicycle (2/2)

The problem with such tall heights was the instability. Thus, it was used for sport rather than as usual way of transport. Manufacturers homogenised the bicycles by standardising the front wheel to the 1.2 m diameter and the rear wheel to 40 cm.

The word bicycle was common in the UK in 1880. The French translated it as bicyclette. The use of rubber tyres instead of wood was introduced by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888 making the rides more comfortable. At the same years, the French brothers Michelin created a removable tyre and so did the Italian Battista Pirelli.

The bicycles weighted between 18 and 20 kg in these years. The brake pads appeared in 1893. The invention which allowed to think the bicycle as a mass vehicle was the chain transmission between chainring and sprocket. This new incorporation was developed by the French Guilment and the British Harry John Lawson in 1879 although its production took place in 1884. In the same era the bicycle with chain transmission and equal wheels appeared thanks to John Kemp Starley. This bike was commonly known as Rover Safety Bicycle. This was the precursor model of the modern bicycle.

The bikes we enjoy nowadays are evolved from the 1885 Rover bicycle. Starley should be considered the father of the modern bikes production as he started it in his company The Rover Company, co-founded with William Sutton, in 1877. They banged them out and it was well accepted in every country. In the XX century, only small improvements have been made to the bicycle such as the gear change or the use of lighter and more resistant materials.

Brief history of the bicycle (1/2)

Previously to the official bike birth, there were a bunch of tries to develop a way of transport different to the traditional carriages. It seems that it was the evolution of let’s say a toy invented and named Célérifère back in the early 19th century. The object had a wooden chassis with animal shape and two wheels. The problem was it could only go in straight line. This invention borned in Paris, France in 1791 during the French Revolution. Earl Mede de Sivrac made it up by putting the two wheels in tandem rather than in parallel as it was common at that time. Britons plagiarised it with their Dandy Horse.

For 20 years it remained unaltered until the German Karl Von Drais introduced an innovation by adding handlebars. He named it Laufmaschine (running machine in German), although it is known as Draisine. He patented it and had certain success. Still it moved as a scooter due to the lack of pedals. The Scottish Kirkpatrick Macmillan added crankshafts through two cranks which allowed spinning the back wheel in 1839.

The French Pierre Michaux and his son Ernesto invented the pedals in 1861. This invention allowed the velocipede to reach higher speeds than with the draisine: The spectacular 5 km/h (3.11 mph) speed and 30 pedal rotations by minute.

In the next years, the innovations consisted in increasing the front wheel since as it had a direct transmission, the bigger the wheel, the more distance with every pedaling. At the same time the rear wheel was reduced to avoid excessive weight to the velocipede. The English people created the BI or High Wheeler to fulfill this idea. The objective was increasing speed with less weight, but also with less equilibrium. Hence, a velocipede with a 1.40 m diameter front wheel advanced 4.40 m, whereas if the wheel had a diameter of 1.70 m, its movement was 8.40 m. The record was reached by Victor Renard who put the cyclist at 2.50 m to advance 12.25 m every time a complete wheel turn was made.


A bicycle is much more than a simple mean of transportation. Going a step further than considering its benefits for human beings and environment, it has been used in a variety of ways throughout its history. Shrewdness has made people to develop a wide variety of bike-objects. Here are some of them.

Suppose you live in a developing country where electricity is too expensive, does not even arrive to mountainous area or you just want to save some money. People has thought a way up to use the legs force to clean garment. The bike-washer makes it reality. The pedals move transmits the energy through the chain, which in turn spins the drum. You need to put the dirty clothes, water and soap, and make some exercise. You will feel double satisfied. One the one hand, your garment will be cleaned. One the other hand, you will have produced endorphins which will make you feel happy.

Next, a bicycle can be modified to allow whipping and produce food with a different texture, like a delicious milkshake. The bike-beater takes advantage from the movement as before. This easy machine is another way to reduce electricity consumption.

Finally, bicycles has been used in wars to deliver important information from the war fronts. One use you probably does not known is bikes as stretchers. Yes, you have read stretchers. At least in Valencia, it was used the bike-stretcher during the Civil War. On the next photo you can see how ingenuity can give marvelous objects, especially needed in war times.